At Carnegie Hall, Annapolis Chorale performs a soaring Faure 'Requiem'

November 23, 1993|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

"The Music and the Tradition Continue . . ." say the banners that fly over New York City's Carnegie Hall.

At 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon, conductor Ernest Green and 91 singers from his Annapolis Chorale took the stage at America's most famous tabernacle of music and officially entered into that tradition.

The Chorale's Carnegie appearance occurred under the auspices of MidAmerica Productions, a New York agency that has been booking concerts for the past decade.

Mr. Green and his Annapolitans were joined by five high school choruses from Texas and Louisiana in a performance of the radiant "Requiem" of the French composer Gabriel Faure. The New England Symphonic Ensemble, a Massachusetts-based orchestra gussied up for Carnegie by an influx of players from Yale and the Juilliard School, accompanied the singers.

Chorale members arrived at their Manhattan headquarters, the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza at Times Square, Thursday evening and spent several hours in rehearsal Friday and Saturday. The only full dress rehearsal took place the morning of the concert.

It was there that the week's brush with disaster occurred. An organ plays a prominent part in Faure's orchestration and, without warning, the circuits on the Carnegie electronic instrument overloaded.

"I said to myself, 'Oh my God,' " moaned Phyllis Everett, the manager of the Chorale. "Don't tell me. We're not going to have an organ for the dress rehearsal."

"But Ernie [Green] never batted an eye," said soprano Mary Coleman while posing for a preconcert picture on West 57th Street under a large poster photo of her conductor. "He kept his sense of calm and his humor throughout."

The instrument was resuscitated briefly before the performance, but failed at the last minute. A smaller, less-powerful console had to be used.

Blissfully unaware of such technical difficulties were the chorale families, who congregated outside the hall in a buzz of preconcert excitement. Katrina Knudson, an Annapolis High graduate who attends Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., took the train from school to see her mother, soprano Renie Knudson, make her Carnegie Hall debut. "I'm very proud," Katrina said.

Once the performance began, it quickly became evident that this was a concert ripe for the taking by Mr. Green and his singers.

In the first half, Hungarian conductor Miklos Takacs had presided over an uneventful reading of Berlioz's negligible overture to "Les Troyens" and a Saint-Saens Fourth Piano Concerto that failed to move until the pyrotechnics of the concluding Allegro finally slammed it into gear.

The Chorale provided the concert's high point with a Faure Requiem that, while not the ultimate exploration of the work's rapt mystical lyricism, was fresh, brisk and exciting nonetheless. Along with their young southern colleagues, the Chorale sounded full, rich and beautiful in the great old house.

The angels at "Te decet hymnus" sounded far more virile than the mousy cherubs one usually hears at this interlude. The delectable Sanctus spread its wings expansively and Mr. Green got the New England strings to shimmer beautifully in the "Pie Jesu." Most satisfying of all was the concluding "In paradisum" taken at a slow pace that allowed the beauty of the music to emerge with its spiritual intensity intact.

"This was such a great experience," said Mr. Green, relaxing in a small suite on Carnegie's fourth floor after the concert. "Just before I went onstage they were giving me a towel, making sure I was OK and I thought to myself, 'Oh my God, what am I doing here?'

"Then I snapped back to reality when they told me the organ had died again, and from that time on there was no anxiety or extra nervous energy. It just felt wonderful."

Gabriel Faure wrote: "For me, music exists to elevate us as far as possible above everyday existence."

Bringing his music to Carnegie Hall was truly an ennobling ascent from the mundane for all concerned.

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